Early this year, Labor climate change spokesman Mark Butler made the effort to travel across Australia to gauge the feeling among the party faithful on climate change policies.
Should they bother with it? Or just fold their cards in with the Tories and pretend it’s not an issue.
The response appears to have overwhelming. And with Tony Abbott, the Prime Ministerial former boxing blue, leading with his chin at home and abroad, it’s simply too big a target to ignore, or even to miss.
Abbott’s calamitous tour of north America tells us nothing new about his attitude to climate policy. His determination to destroy the country’s own policy framework, and to do his best to disrupt international talks, is well documented.
His affinity with “Canadia”, and its long-standing anti-climate action PM Stephen Harper, is also not a surprise. Like Australia, Canada is grimly determined to extract as many fossil fuels as they can. And as Abbott’s brethren in the Queensland government expressed this week, Australia and Canada just don’t think they are rich enough yet to do the right thing on climate.
It is, of course, an attitude that beggars belief. What is more astounding is the confirmation that Abbott is incapable of expressing any thought on the international stage that is not a derivative of his domestic campaign sloganeering. Hence his rejection of an invitation by UN chief Ban Ki-Moon to attend a crucial leader’s summit in September.
As the SMH cartoonist so aptly illustrated today, Abbott is striding the world as a leader, but only of the Opposition to doing anything. And Labor and others have been keen to use this image to the right to illustrate just how isolated Abbott has become. The conservative toadies in the media, naturally, are horrified. Abbott has lots of mates, Andrew Bolt insisted in his latest column.Why, there’s Harper and, and, and. Well, he didn’t actually name any others.
Butler, of course, has been having a field day. As have the Greens, of course, but if the Abbott government is to be removed, it can only be at the hands of a credible alternative from one of the mainstream parties, either within his own party or from Labor – who may well rely on the Greens, in any case, in a future parliament.
“Tony Abbott’s position on climate change has moved from embarrassing and ignorant to downright damaging to Australia,” Butler says in his latest statement.
“Each day, Tony Abbott’s complete ignorance on the science and economics of climate change is exposed by experts and leaders.
“However, he continues to ignore the evidence that climate change is real and requires strong domestic and international action.”
A day earlier, Butler highlighted how Abbott had isolated himself from mainstream thinking. He might have added the G7 alliance, which re-iterated its commitment to achieving a decent outcome in Paris next year.
“Is it [climate change] the most important the world faces right now? I don’t believe so.”
Tony Abbott, 10 June 2014
“We think that climate change should be the number one priority for all leaders to consider. It is clearly the defining issue of our time.”
Spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, 10 June 2014
“This Government takes climate change seriously. That is … why we’re actively involved in international climate change efforts.”
John Key, New Zealand Prime Minister, 10 June 2014
“If you profess leadership you need to recognise that this [climate change] is one of the most significant long-term challenges, if not the most significant long-term challenge, that the planet faces.”
Barack Obama, 10 June 2014
It’s all good fun. But to be truthful, Labor has some catching up to do on this issue. It stuffed up its first attempt at an emissions trading scheme by using it as a wedge against Malcolm Turnbull, and then refusing to talk with the Greens.
It baulked at a double dissolution, dropped its own scheme, and when it finally produced a decent package with the help of Ross Garnaut, the Greens and the country independents, it had no idea how to sell it. Instead, it allowed three words “Axe the Tax”, to derail the most important economic initiative of the time. And it didn’t dare take climate change to the electorate as a major issue.
So, is Butler just having fun with an irresistible target, or is Labor really, really serious about climate change this time, and all that it implies on the coal and other fossil fuel industries? Time will tell.